(Editor's Note: I found my first snake of the season this past week while working in my backyard. I picked up a pile of leaves and there it was. Have you spotted any snakes yet? Let us know in the comments.)
Few creatures cause more fear than a slithering serpent, but how much of that fear is truly justified?
University of Georgia Herpetological Society co-president Todd Pierson said fear of snakes is natural.
“In a lot of other parts of the world, most of the snakes are venomous and dangerous,” he said. “But here, that is not so much the case.”
In fact, some venomous snakes are among the least aggressive species according to Pierson.
“There is really not too much reason to worry,” he said. “A lot of times it is fear of the unknown. We can predict what mammals will do -- we think we understand them a little bit better. But most people just generally don’t understand snakes and that leads to fear.”
Of the more than 40 species of snakes in Georgia, only six are venomous. Those snakes include copperheads, water moccasins, the eastern coral snake and three varieties of rattlesnakes. Of those, the ones most likely to be encountered in the Dacula area according to Pierson are the copperhead, the timber rattlesnake and pygmy rattlesnake. Water moccasins or cottonmouths are rare in this area.
“Most of the snakes that you see around the water are just harmless water snakes,” Pierson said. “They’ll bite when you pick them up, but they’re not venomous.”
Pierson described rat snakes and black racers as long, slender black snakes. Garter snakes, he said, are slightly more difficult to identify due to the variations in striping or banding and color.
Pierson said it is uncommon to see either venomous or non-venomous snakes in an open yard simply due to the fact that snakes prefer places where concealment is possible.
“If you find them in your yard, they’re not living there, they are just moving through,” he said.
However, if you have debris, brush piles or live near a wooded area with mice or chipmunks, that is a different story.
“Snakes like cover,” Pierson said. “If you have old boards or roofing metal or debris piles, snakes love that stuff. If you have that, you should clean it up because that’s what attracting the snakes. It attracts rodents and the snakes come in to eat them.”
Snake repellent is by and large ineffective, he added.
So what should you do if you see a snake?
“The best thing you can really do is leave it alone,” he said.
The worst thing you can do, according to Pierson, is to try and relocate the snake.
“By far, the biggest majority of snake bite victims of venomous snakes are young males age 18 to 25 who pick up the snake,” he said. “The only way you get bit by these snakes in the large majority of cases is if you pick them up. So whether you are trying to shoot the snake or picking it up with a shovel or moving it, that very much increases the likelihood you’ll be bitten.”
In the event you are bitten by a snake, seek medical help immediately.
Wondering if the snake you saw in your backyard is venomous? Email a photo to email@example.com for help with snake identification.
Six venomous snakes of Georgia:
Copperheads are tan to brown colored with darker hourglass shaped crossbands along the length of the body. Juveniles have a yellow tipped tail. Copperheads are responsible for a majority of snakebites in the Southeast each year, but their venom is not very potent.
- Cottonmouth / Water Moccasin
Cottonmouths, also known as “water moccasins,” have large, triangular heads and are typically two to four feet long. Colors of this snake vary from light colored with banding to completely black or brown. Often confused with non-venomous water snakes, the cottonmouth can be easily recognized by its tendency not to flee the presence of humans.
- Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is a large snake usually 3-6 feet long. These snakes are typically light brown with darker diamond patterns.
- Canebrake/Timber Rattlesnake
Timber rattlesnakes, or canebrake rattlesnakes, are usually gray and may have a pinkish, yellow, orange, or brown stripe along the back. These snakes also have black chevrons on the back and sides with the point of the chevron facing forward. Most are docile, but will strike if threatened.
- Pigmy Rattlesnake
Pigmy or ground rattlers are small snakes of various colors depending on the exact species. These snakes spend most of their time hiding and can be very difficult to spot.
- Eastern Coral Snake
Adult eastern coral snakes may reach up to 4 feet in length. The snakes have a pattern of red, yellow and black rings in which the red and yellow rings touch each other (According to the rhyme: Red meets black, you’re ok jack. Red meets yellow, you’re a dead fellow).
For more information on Georgia snakes, click here.
This article was originally published on Dacula Patch in May of 2011.